[The following passage comes from the fourth volume of the author's Life of Goethe, which I have transcribed from the Internet Archive web edition, using the images of printed text to correct many errors in the OCR full-text version. Page breaks in the original text are indicated as follows: [199/200]. Follow for Bob Muscutt’s introduction. — George P. Landow]
n the 7th of November, 1775, Goethe, aged twenty-six, arrived at the little city on the banks of the Ilm, where his long residence was to confer on an insignificant Duchy the immortal renown of a German Athens.
Small indeed is the space occupied on the map by the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar; yet the historian of the German Courts declares, and truly, that after Berlin there is no Court of which the nation is so proud [Veuse, Geschichte der Deutchen Hüfe seit der Reformation, XXVIII, 3]. Frederick the Great and Wolfgang Goethe have raised these Courts into centres of undying interest. Of Weimar it is necessary we should form a distinct idea, if we would understand the outward life of the poet.
Klein ist unter den Fürsten Germaniens freilich der meine,
Kurz und sehmal ist sein Land, massig nur was er vermag.
Small among German princes is mine, poor and narrow his kingdom,
limited his power of doing good.
Thus sings Goethe in that poem, so honourable to both, wherein he acknowledges his debt to Karl August. The geographical importance of Weimar was, and is, small; but we in England have proud reason to know how great a place in the world can be filled by a nation whose place is trivial on the map. We know, moreover, that the Athens, which it is the pride of Weimar to claim as a patronymic, was but a dot upon [189/190] the surface of Europe, a dot of earth, feeding some twenty thousand freemen, who not only extended the empire of their arms from Eub&lig;oe;a to the Thracian Bosphorus, but who left their glories in Literature, Philosophy, and Art, as marvels and as models for the civilized world. It is interesting therefore to know how small this Duchy of Saxe-Weimar was, that wo may appreciate the influence exercised by means so circumscribed. We must know how absurdly scant the income of its generous prince, who, as I am credibly informed, would occasionally supply the deficiencies of his purse by the princely unprinceliness of selling to the Jews a diamond ring, or ancestral snuff-box, that he might hand the proceeds to some struggling artist or poet. I mention this lest it should be supposed that a sarcastic spirit has dictated the enumeration of unimposing details, in the following attempt to reconstruct some image of Weimar and its Court.
Weimar is an ancient city on the Ilm, a small stream rising in the Thuringian forests, and losing itself in the Saal, at Jena; this stream on which the sole navigation seems to be that of ducks, meanders peacefully through pleasant valleys, except during the rainy season, when mountain-torrents swell its current, and overflow its banks. The Trent, between Trentham and Stafford — “the smug and silver Trent” as Shakspcare calls it — will give an idea of this stream. The town is charmingly placed in the Ilm valley, and stands some eight hundred feet above the level of the sea. “Weimar,” says the old topographer, Mathew Merian, “is Weinmar, because it was the wine market for Jena and its environs. Others say it was because some one here in ancient days began to plant the vine, who was hence called Weinmayer. But of this each reader may believe just what he pleases" (Topographia Superiorie Saxonia Thuringia, etc., 1650), p. 188.)
On a first acquaintance, Weimar seems more like a village bordering a park, than a capital with a Court, having all courtly environments. It is so quiet, so simple; and although ancient in its architecture, has none of the picturesqueness which delights the eye in mmost old German cities. The stone-coloured, light brown, and apple-green houses have high-peaked slanting roofs, but no quaint gables, no caprices of architectural fancy, none of the mingling of varied styles which elsewhere charms the traveller. One learns to love its quiet simple streets, and pleasant paths, fit theatre for the simple actors moving across the scene; but one must live there some time to discover its charm. The aspect it presented, when Goethe arrived, was of course very different from that presented now; but [190/191] by diligent inquiry we may get some rough image of the place restored. First be it noted that the city walls were still erect; gates and portcullis still spoke of days of warfare. Within these walls were six or seven hundred houses, not more, most of them very ancient. Under these roofs were about seven thousand inhabitants — for the most part not handsome. The city gates were strictly guarded. No one could pass through them in cart or carriage without leaving his name in the sentinel’s book; even Goethe, minister and favourite, could not escape this tiresome formality, as we gather from one of his letters to the Fran von Stein, directing her to go out alone, and meet him beyond the gates, lest their exit together should be known. During Sunday service a chain was thrown across the streets leading to the church, to bar out all passengers, a practice to this day partially retained: the chain is fastened, but the passengers step over it without ceremony. There was little safety at night in those silent streets; for if you were in no great danger from marauders, you were in constant danger of breaking a limb in some hole or other; the idea of lighting streets not having presented itself to the Thuringian mind. In the year 1685, the streets of London were first lighted with lamps; in 1775 Germany had not yet ventured on that experiment. If in 1854 Weimar is still innocent of gas, and perplexes its inhabitants with the dim obscurity of an occasional oil-lamp slung on a cord across the streets, we can understand that in 1775 it had not even advanced so far. And our supposition is exact. [In a decree made at Cassel, in 1776, this sentence is noticeable: “In every house an soon as the alarum sounds at night, every inhabitant must hold out a lighted lantern, in order that the people may find their way in the streets.” Quoted by Biedermann, Deutschlund im 18ten Jahrhundert, i, p. 370.]
The palace, which now forms three sides of a quadrangle, and is truly palatial in appearance, was in ashes when Goethe arrived. The ducal pair inhabited the Furstenhaus, which stands opposite. The park was not in existence. In its place there was the Welche Garten, a garden arranged after the pattern of Versailles, with trees trimmed into set shapes, with square beds, canals, bridges, and a Babylonic spiral tower called Die Schnecke in which the people assembled to hear music, and to enjoy punch and sweet cakes. To the left of this garden stood the nucleus of the present park, and a wooded mass stretching as far as Upper Weimar.
Saxe-Weimar has no trade, no manufactures, no animation of commercial, political, or even theological activity. This part of Saxony, be it remembered, was the home and shelter of Protestantism in its birth. Only a few miles from Weimar stands the Wartburg, where [191/192] Luther, in the disguise of Squire George, lived in safety, translating the Bible, and hurling his inkstand at the head of Satan, like a roughhanded disputant as he was. In the market-place of Weimar stand, to this day, two houses from the windows of which Tetzel advertised his indulgences, and Luther afterwards in fiery indignation fulminated against them. These records of religious struggle still remain, but are no longer suggestions for the continuance of the strife. The fire is burnt out; and perhaps in no city of Europe is theology so placid, so entirely at rest. The Wartburg still rears its picturesque eminence over the lovely Thuringian valleys; and Luther's room is visited by thousands of pilgrims; but in this very palace of the Wartburg, besides the room where Luther struggled with Satan, the visitors are shown the Banqueting Hall of the Minnesingers, where poet challenged poet, and the Sängerkrieg, or Minstrels' Contest, was celebrated. The contrast may be carried further. It may be taken as a symbol of the intellectual condition of Saxe-Weimar, that while the relics of Luther are simply preserved, tho Minstrel Hall is now being restored in more than its pristine splendour. Lutheran theology is crumbling away, just as the famous inkspot has disappeared beneath the gradual scrapings of visitor's penknives; but the minstrelsy of which the Germans are so proud, daily receives fresh honour and adulation. Nor is this adulation a mere revival. Every year the Wartburg saw assembled the members of that numerous family (the Bachs) which, driven from Hungary in the early period of Reform, had settled in Saxony, and had given, besides the great John Sebastian Bach, many noble musicians to the world. Too numerous to gain a livelihood in one city, the Bachs agreed to meet every year at the Wartburg. This custom, which was continued till the close of the eighteenth century, not only presented the singular spectacle of one family consisting of no less than a hundred and twenty musicians, but was also the occasion of musical entertainments such as were never heard before. They began by religious hymns, sung in chorus; they then took for their theme some popular song, comic or licentious, varying it by the improvisation of four, five, or six parts; these improvisations were named Quolibets, and are considered by many writers to have been the origin of German opera.
The theologic fire has long burnt itself out in Thuringia. In Weimar, where Luther preached, another prcacher came, whom we know as Goethe. In the old church there is one portrait of Luther, painted by his friend Lucas Kranach, greatly prized, as well it may be; but for this one portrait of Luther, there are a hundred of [192/193] Goethe. It is not Luther, but Goethe, they think of here; poetry, not theology, is the glory of Weimar. And, corresponding with this, we find the dominant characteristic of the place to be no magnificent church, no picturesque ancient buildings, no visible image of the earlier ages, but the sweet serenity of a lovely park. The park fills the foreground of the picture, and always rises first in the memory. Any one who has spent happy hours wandering through its sunny walks and winding shades, watching its beauties changing through the fulness of summer, and the striking contrasts of autumn as it deepens into winter, will easily understand how Goethe could have been content to live in so small a city, which had, besides its nest of friends, so charming a park. It was indeed mainly his own creation; and as it filled a large space in his life, it demands more than a passing allusion here.
Southwards from the palace it begins, with no obstacle of wall or iron gate, servant or sentinel, to seem to shut us out, so let us enter and look round. In the dew of morning, and in the silence of moonlight, we may wander undisturbed as if in our own grounds. The land stretches for miles away without barrier; park and yellow cornlands forming one friendly expanse. If we pass into it from the palace gates, a winding path to the right conducts us into the Belvedere Allée: a magnificent avenue of chestnut trees, two miles long, stretching from the new street to the summer palace of Belvedere. This affords a shaded promenade along the park, in summer grateful for its coolness, in autumn looking like an avenue of golden trees. It terminates in the gardens of the Belvedere, which has its park also beautifully disposed. Here the Weimarians resort, to enjoy the fresh air after their fashion, namely, with accompaniments of bad beer, questionable coffee, and detestable tobacco.
If, instead of turning into the Belvedere All^e, we keep within the park, our walks are so numerous that choice becomes perplexing. Let us cross the Stern Brüche, a bridge leading from the palace. Turning to our right wo pass along through noble trees, charmed by
“The sound of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
WTiich to the quiet trees all night
Singeth a quiet tune.”
We reach the broad road leading to Upper Weimar. On this road, which skirts a meadow washed by the Ilm, we shall pass Goethe's Gartenhaus (Garden House, to be described hereafter), and then winding round the meadow, cross another bridge, and enter a shadowy path, picturesque with well-grouped trees — the solemn [193/194] pine, the beech, whose dark green patches of moss increase the brilliancy of its silver bark, the weeping birch with its airy elegance of form, the plane tree, the elm, the chestnut and the mountain ash, brilliant with berries hanging like clusters of coral against the deep blue of the sky. One steep side of this path is craggy with masses of moss-covered rock; beneath the other flows the Ilm. A few paces from the bridge which leads us here, stands the Borkenhaus (Bark House), a hermit's hut, erected by Goethe for a fête of the duchess, and subsequently the favourite residence of the duke. It is ouly twenty feet long and fourteen deep, built entirely of wood, and plastered (so to speak) with the bark of trees. It rests against a rock amid the trees, and is surrounded by a wooden gallery, reached by rough wooden steps. Where is the prince who would live in such a hut now-a-days? Where are the ministers who would attend council in such a hut? Yet, here Karl August lived alone, glad to escape from the tedium of etiquette, and the palling pleasures of a little court. Here he debated affairs of state, not less momentous to him because they were trivial in European politics. Here he bathed in the Ilm running beneath. Here he could see the Garden House of his poet, and telegraph to him across the Park. In this single room, which was at once dining-room, council-chamber, study, and bed-room, the manly duke lived alone for months.
From the Borkenhaus a small flight of stone steps conducts us to a mimic Ruin, and thence a narrow winding path leads to a stone monument, interesting as a witness to the growth of a mythos. It is an antique column, four feet high, round which a serpent winds, in the act of devouring the offering cakes on the top. The inscription says, Genio Loci, But the Weimer plebs, disregarding antique symbols, and imperfectly acquainted with Virgil, has a legend to tell; a legend sprung, no one knows whence, rapid and mysterious as the growth of fungi, like most legends, to satisfy the imperious craving for explanaiioiis; a legend which certifies how, formerly, a huge serpent dwelt in this spot, the terror of Weimar, until a cunning baker bethought him of placing poisoned cakes within the monster's reach; and when the greedy ignorance of the serpent had relieved Weimar of the monster, a grateful people erected this monument to an energetic and inventive baker, Et voilà, comme on écrit l'histoire.
I will not fatigue the reader by dragging him all over this much loved park, which must be enjoyed directly, not through description; [If a fuller description be desired, the reader will find one in the charming pages of Stahr’s Weimar und Jena, to which I totakeko thin occasion of acknowledging a large debt.] [194/195] enough for present purposes if it be added that while the summer palace of Belvedere is connected with Weimar by the chestnut avenue, the summer palace and park of Tiefurt is also connected with Weimar by a richly-wooded road, the Webicht. This Tiefurt is a tiny little place, quite a curiosity of diminutiveness. The park, through which runs a branch of the Ilm, is tiny but picturesque. The upper story of the palace is a labyrinth of tiny rooms, some of them so small that, stfuiding with your back against one wall, you can touch the opposite wall with your hand. It was here the Duchess Amalia lived.
“I have lived here fifty years,” said Goethe to Eckermann, “and where have I not been but I was always glad to return to Weimar.” The stranger may wonder wherein lies the charm; but a residence at Weimar soon reveals the secret. Among the charms are the environs. First there is Ettersburg, with its palace, woods, and park, some seven miles distant. Then there is Bercka with its charming valley, dear to all pedestrians, within half-a-dozen miles; a little further is Jena and its enchanting valley, from whose heights we look down on thd sombre city, rendered illustrious by so many sounding names. Jena was to science what Weimar was to poetry. Assembled there were men like Griesbach, Paulus, Baumgarten-Crusius, and Danz, to teach theology; Schelling, Fichte, Hegel, Reinhold, and Fries, to teach philosophy; Loder, Hufeland, Oken, Döbereiner, to teach science; Luden, Schultz, and others, for history. The Schlegels and the Humboldts also lent their lustre to the place. Besides Jena, we must mention Ilmenau, Eisenach, the Thuringian forests, and the valley of the Saal: environs attractive enough for the most restless wanderer.
Having thus sketched the main features of the place it will now be desirable to give some indication of the times y that we may understand the atmosphere in which Goethe lived. Difficult as the restoration of Weimar has been to me, and only possible through the aid of what still remains from the old time, the difficulty has been tenfold with regard to the more changing aspects of society and opinion. Curiously enough the Germans, famous for writing on all subjects, have produced no work on the state of manners and the domestic conditions of this much-be-written period. The books on Goethe are endless; there is not one which tells us of the outward circumstances among which he moved. From far and wide I have gathered together some details which may aid in forming a picture.
Remember that we are in the middle of the eighteenth century. The French Revolution is as yet only gathering its forces together; nearly twenty years must elapse before the storm breaks. The chasm [195/196] between that time and our own is vast and deep. Every detail speaks of it. To begin with Science — everywhere the torch of civilisation — it is enough to say that Chemistry did not then exist. Abundant materials indeed existed, but that which makes a Science, viz., the power of prevision based on quantitative knowledge, was still absent; and Alchemy maintained its place among the conflicting hypotheses of the day. Goethe in Frankfurt was busy with researches after the “virgin earth”. The philosopher's stone had many eager seekers. In 1787, Semler sent to the Academy of Berlin his discovery that gold grew in a certain atmospheric salt, when kept moist and warm. Klaproth, in the name of the Academy, examined this salt, and found indeed gold leaf in it — which had been put there by Semler's servant to encourage his master's credulity. This age, so incredulous in religion, was credulous in science. In spite of all the labours of the encyclopedists, in spite of all the philosophic and religious “enlightenment”, in spite of Voltaire and La Mettrie, it was possible for Count St. Germain and Cagliostro to delude thousands: and Casanova found a dupe in the Marquise d'Urfe, who believed he could restore her youth, and make the moon impregnate her! It was in 1774 that Mesmer astonished Vienna with his marvels of mystic magnetism. The secret societies of Freemasons and Illuminati, mystic in their ceremonies and chimerical in their hopes — now in quest of the philosopher's stone, now in quest of tho perfectibility of mankind — a mixture of religious, political, and mystical reveries, flourished in all parts of Germany, and in all circles.
With Science in so imperfect a condition, we are sure to find a corresponding poverty in material comfort and luxury. High-roads, for example, were only found in certain parts of Germany; Prussia had no chaussée till 1787. Milestones were unknown, although fingerposts existed. Instead of facilitating the transit of travellers, it was thought good political economy to obstruct them, for the longer they remained the more money they spent in the country. A century earlier, stage coaches were known in England; but in Germany, public conveyances, very rude to this day in places where no railway exists, were few and miserable; nothing but open carts with unstuffed seats. Diligences on springs were unknown before 1800; and what they were, even twenty years ago, many readers doubtless remember. Then as to speed. In 1754 there was "the flying coach" running from Manchester to London, but taking four days and a half on the journey. In 1763 there was a coach between Edinburgh and London, once a mouth; it passed twelve or fourteen days on the road; though even in our own stage coach days the [196/197] distance was performod in forty-eight hours. And as England was a busy nation, always in a hurry, we may gather from these details some idea of the rapidity of German travel. Germans were not flurried by agitations as to loss of time: if you travelled post, it was said with pride that seldom more than an hour's waiting was necessaiy before the horses were got ready, — at least on frequented routes. Mail travelling was at the rate of five English miles in an hour and a quarter. Letters took nine days from Berlin to Frankfurt, which in 1854 required only twenty-four hours. So slow was the communication of news that, as we learn from the Stein correspondence, the death of Frederick the Great was only known in Carlsbad as a rumour a week afterward. “By this time,” writes Goethe, “you must know in Weimar if it be true.” With these obstacles to locomotion, it was natural that men travelled but rarely and mostly on horseback. What the inns were may be imagined from the infrequency of travellers, and the general state of domestic comfort.
The absence of comfort and luxury (luxury as distinguished from ornament) may be gathered from the Memoirs of the time, and from such works as Bertuch's Mode Journal, Such necessities as good locks, doors that shut, drawers opening easily, tolerable knives, carts on springs, or beds fit for a Christian of any other than the German persuasion, are still rarities in Thuringia; but in those days, when sewers were undreamed of, and a post-office was only a vision, much that we moderns consider as comfort was necessarily wanting, The furniture, even of palaces, was extremely simple. In the houses of wealthy bourgeois, chairs and tables were of common fir; not until the close of the eighteenth century did mahogany make its appearance. Looking-glasses followed. The chairs were covered with a coarse green cloth; the tables likewise; and carpets are only now beginning to loom upon the national mind as a possible luxury. The windows were hung with woollen curtains, when the extravagance of curtains was ventured on. Easy chairs were unknown; the only arm chair allowed was the so-called Grandfather's chair, which was reserved for the dignity of grey hairs, or the feebleness of age.
The salon de reception, or drawing-room, into which greatly honoured visitors were shown, had of course a kind of Sunday splendour, not dimmed by week-day familiarity. There hung the curtains; the walls were adorned with family portraits or some work of native talent; the tables alluring the eye with china, in guise of cups, vases, impossible shepherds and very allegorical dogs. Into this [197/18] room the honoured visitor was ushered; and there, no matter what the hour, refreshment of some kind was handed. This custom — a compound product of hospitality and bad inns — lingered until lately in England, and perhaps is still not unknown in provincial towns.
On eating and drinking was spent the surplus now devoted to finery. No one then, except gentlemen of the first water, boasted of a gold snuff-box; even a gold-headed cane was an unusual elegance. The dandy contented himself with a silver watch. The fine lady blazoned herself with a gold watch and heavy chain; but it was an heirloom! To see a modern dinner service glittering with silver, glass, and china, and to think that even the nobility in those days ate off pewter, is enough to make the lapse of time very vivid to us. A silver teapot and teatray were held as princely magnificence.
The manners were rough and simple. The journeymen ate at the same table with their masters, and joined in the coarse jokes which then passed for hilarity. Filial obedience was rigidly enforced; the stick or strap not unfrequently aiding parental authority. Even the brothers exercised an almost paternal authority over their sisters. Indeed, the position of women was by no means such as our women can hear of with patience; not only were they kept under the paternal, marital, and fraternal yoke, but society limited their actions by its prejudices still more than it does now. No woman of the better class of citizens could go out alone; the servant girl followed her to church, to a shop, or even to the promenade.
The coarseness of language may be imagined from our own literature of that period. The roughness of manners is shown by such a scene as that in Wilhelm Meister, where the Schöne Seele in her confessions (speaking of high, well-born society) narrates how, at an evening party, forfeits were introduced; one of these forfeits is, that a gentleman shall say something gallant to every lady present; he whispers in the ear of a lady, who boxes his ears, and boxes it with such violence that the powder from his hair flies into a lady's eyes; when she is enabled to see again, it is to see that the husband of the lady has drawn his sword, and stabbed the offender, and that a duel, in the very presence of these women, is only prevented by one of tho combatants being dragged from the room.
The foregoing survey would be incoinpleto without some notice of the prices of things; the more so as we shall learn hereafter that the pension Karl August gave Schiller was 200 thalers — about £30 of our money; that the salary of Seckendorff as Kammerchere was only [198/199] 600 thalers, or about £100; and that the salary Goethe received, as Councillor of Legation, was only 1,200 thalers, about £200 per annum. It is necessary I should indicate something like the real relation of these sums to the expense of living. We find, in Schiller’s correspondence with Körner, that he hires a riding-horse for sixpence a day (vol. i, p. 84), and gets a manuscript fairly copied at the rate of three halfpence a sheet of sixteen pages (vol. i, p. 92) with us the charge is twopence for every seventy-two words; the whole of Don Carlos cost but three and sixpence for copying. He hires a furnished apartment, consisting of two rooms and a bedroom, for two pounds-twelve and sixpence a quarter (Charlotte von Kalb writing to Jean Paul, November 1776, says his lodgings will only cost him ten dollars, or thirty shillings, a quarter); while his male servant, who in case of need can act as secretary, is to be had for eighteen shillings a quarter (vol. i, p. 111). Beckoning up his expenses he says, “Washing, servants, the barber, and such things, all paid quarterly, and none exceeding six shillings: so that, speaking in round nimibers, I shall hardly need more than four hundred and fifty dollars” (vol. ii, p. 94) — that is, about £70 a year. Even when he is married, and sees a family growing round him, he says, “With eight hundred dollars I can live here, in Jena, charmingly — recht artig” (vol. ii, p. 153).
It is evident that in Weimar they led no very sumptuous life. A small provincial town overshadowed by a Court, its modes of life were the expression of this contrast. The people, a slow, heavy, ungraceful, ignorant, but good-natured, happy, honest race, feeding on black bread and sausages; rising higher, there were the cultivated classes of employes, artists, and professors; and, higher still, the aristocracy. In the theatre, until 1825, the nobility alone were allowed admission to the boxes; and when the Jena students crowded the pit, elbowing out the Weimar public, that public was forced to return home, or jostle with the students for seats in pit and gallery. Even when the theatre was rebuilt, and the bourgeoisie was permitted a place in the boxes, its place was on the left side of the house, the right being vigorously reserved for the Vons. This continued until 1848; since that year of revolutions the public has had the place it can pay for.
It is quite true, the Weimar court but little corresponded with those conceptions of grandeur, magnificence, and historical or political importance, with which the name of court is usually associated. But just as in gambling the feelings are agitated less by the greatness of the stake than by the variations of fortune, so in the social [199/200] gambling of court intrigue, there is the same ambition and agitation, whether the green cloth be an empire or a duchy. Within its limits Saxe-Weimar displayed all that an imperial court displays in larger proportions: it had its ministers, its army, its chamberlains, pages, and sycophants. Court favour, and disgrace, elevated and depressed, as if they had been imperial smiles, or autocratic frowns. A standing army of six hundred men, with cavalry of fifty hussars, had its War Department, with war minister, secretary, and clerk. [Lest this appear all too ridicuklous, I will add that one of the small German princes (the Graf von Limburg Styrum) kept a corps of hussars, which consisted of a colonel, six officers, and two privates!]
As the nobles formed the predominating element of Weimar, we see at once how, in spite of the influence of Karl August, and the remarkable men he assembled round him, no real public for Art could be found there. Some of the courtiers played more or less with Art, some had real feeling for it; but the majority set decided faces against all the beaux esprits. When the Duchess Amalia travelled with Merck in 1778, Weimar was loud in anticipatory grumblings: “She will doubtless bring back some bel esprit picked up en route!" was the common cry. And really when we have learned, as we shall learn in a future chapter, the habits of these beaux esprits, and their way of making life “genial”, impartiality will force us to confess that this imperfect sympathy on the part of the Vons was not without its reason.
Not without profound significance is this fact that in Weimar the poet found a Circle, but no Public. To welcome his productions there were friends and admirers; there was no Nation. Germany had no public; nor has it to this day. It was, and is, a collection of cities, not a Nation. To appreciate by contrast the full significance of such a condition we must look at Greece and Rome. There the history of Art tells the same story as is everywhere told by the history of human effort. It tells us that to reach the height of perfection there must bo the co-operation of the Nation with individual Genius. Thus it is necessary for the development of science that science should cease to be the speculation of a few, and become the minister of the many; from the constant pressure of unsatisfied wants, science receives its energetic stimulus; and its highest reward is the satisfaction of those wants. In Art the same law holds. The whole Athenian Nation co-operated with its artists; and this is one cause why Athenian Art rose into unsurpassed splendour. Art was not the occupation of a few, ministering to the luxury of a few; [200/201] it was the luxury of all. Its triumphs were not hidden in galleries and museums; they blazed in the noonday sun; they were admired and criticised by the whole people; and, as Aristotle expressly says, every free citizen was from youth upwards a critic of Art. Sophocles wrote for all Athens, and by all Athens was applauded. The theatre was open to all free citizens. Phidias and Praxiteles, Scopas and Myron, wrought their marvels in brass and marble, as expressions of a national faith, and the delights of a national mind. Temples and market-places, public groves and public walks, were the galleries wherein these sculptors placed their works. The public treasury was liberal in its rewards; and the rivalry of private munificence was no£ displayed to secure works for private galleries, but to enrich the public possessions. In this spirit the citizens of Gnidos chose to continue the payment of an onerous tribute rather than suffer their statue of Venus to quit their city. And when some murmurs rose against the expense which Pericles was incurring in the building of the Parthenon, he silenced those murmurs by the threat of furnishing the money from his private purse, and then placing his name on the majestic work.
Stahr, who has eloquently described the effects of such national co-operation in Art, compares the similar influence of publicity during the Middle Ages, when the great painters and sculptors placed their works in cathednils, — open all day long, in council-houses and market-places, whither the people thronged, — with the fact that in our day Art finds refuge in the galleries of private persons, or in museums closed on Sundays and holidays. [See his Torso, pp. 147-151]
Nor is this all. The effect of Art upon the Nation is visible in the striking fact that in Greece and Rome the truly great men were crowned by the public, not neglected for any artist who pandered to the fashion and the tastes of the few, or who flattered the first impressions of the many. It was young Phidias whom the Athenians chose to carve the statue of Pallas Athene, and to build the Parthenon. Suppose Phidias had been an Englishman, would he have been selected by government to give the nation a statue of Wellington, or to build the Houses of Parliament? The names most reverenced by contemporaries in Greece, and in Italy, are the names which posterity has declared to be the highest. Necessarily so. The verdict of the public, when that public includes the whole intelligence of the nation, must be the correct verdict in Art.
Lewes, George Henry. The Life of Goethe. 2nd ed. London: Smith Elder, 1864. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the Bodleian Library. Web. 7 May 2017.
Last modified 7 May 2017